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Quotes 12/28: Coach Joe Judge, LB Blake Martinez, C Nick Gates

Head Coach Joe Judge

Q: I'll start where I think everyone wants to start, which is the playoffs. Did you watch those two games yesterday? Obviously, you got the help you needed. With no fear of looking ahead, there's nothing after Week 17, will you change the approach about discussing the playoffs with your team this week?

A: No. I actually met with the team last night when we got back to make sure we were set on what the plan for the week was. Our focus still needs to remain on the Cowboys. That's the priority this week. We remain focused on improving as a team. We have a division rival coming up ahead, it's a big game for us. Obviously, there are implications. As I've said all along, those games right now don't exist. Until I can talk about any kind of opponent coming up beyond who we're playing, there's not a conversation to be had. Our focus remains on the Cowboys.

Q: I've been doing some studying of the numbers, it looks like in your last three games, when you come out in the second half, the scores have been a little bit closer, perhaps indicating a quicker start. I'm just wondering what's been the difference with getting started up a little quicker in the second half versus getting started in the first half?

A: I think our coaches have made good adjustments at halftime. We've come out, obviously, schematically, to change a few things and use our personnel just a little bit differently. Nothing drastic, but just something to go ahead and change up something that may have been an issue in the first half. Again, we have to be able to adjust on the fly. That's within the game. We can't wait until halftime to make adjustments. But that's an opportunity to get the entire unit together to discuss some schematic things or maybe how we treat a person on the other side. On both sides of the ball, including the kicking game as well, we try to use halftime as effectively as we can.

Q: I don't believe Will Hernandez had ever missed a snap in his career until he went on the COVID list. Now his playing time has really reduced. I'm just curious what's gone into that? Why is he playing so much less now?

A: We're continuing to roll our linemen throughout the game. There hasn't been a designated snap count on any player going in. Look, I've let Guge (Dave DeGuglielmo) have some autonomy in terms of as the game gets going, the flow goes, to put in what we think is best for the schemes that we're running. We check in and we talk continuously throughout the week. The plan is to play all of our guys at the game. It's always been our plan and to use guys continuously. You saw Matt (Peart) play as well last night. We'll continue to use Will, and we'll rotate all three guards going forward.

Q: You say you don't have starters, but Shane (Lemieux) is playing significantly more snaps. That can't happen by accident. He plays usually the first two series, then Will comes in. Did Will lose his job by going on the COVID list? He wasn't rotating, he was a starter and he played every snap.

A: Look, we base everything here on production, so in terms of who's playing on what snaps, we may have different guys in different schemes. There are different times we want to use different guys throughout the game. We put priority on keeping all of our guys fresh, and we're looking to really develop as many guys as we can. I'd say all three guards, Kevin (Zeitler), Shane and Will, have played well at times. There have been things we want to improve on with our entire unit going across the board. But we're going to continue to rotate those guys going forward.

Q: Didn't get a chance to ask you yesterday about Evan (Engram). He got banged up at the end of the game. Just curious what his status is, how he was feeling today? I know you probably won't get a true sense until Wednesday, but to add some insight as to what went on there.

A: I'll tell you what, he's actually going to meet with the doctors a little bit later tonight. He's already seen our training staff and met with the doctors after the game. That's all kind of standard procedure. Look, we're optimistic about where he's going to be. That being said, this will definitely be a deal where we have to see how he moves around on Wednesday in practice. From the feedback we got from the doctors, for them, it's a lot of wait and see and watch to see how he responds. But we are optimistic. I have not spoken directly to Evan today myself. I checked in with him yesterday after the game, obviously, and talked with him a little bit when we got back, but nothing extensively.

Q: Just one on Daniel (Jones). Did he come out physically well enough to the point where today you don't feel like there's anything new that you have to deal with this week?

A: No, I think this is the first week in a while as far as Daniel goes where we can just turn around and say, 'hey, we're going to let him go out there and let him play.' Obviously, we had to see him move around a little bit throughout the week coming up to it. The one good thing about Daniel is our training staff and him have done a really good job of working together and prepping him for game action. We've seen continued improvement health wise with him. He hasn't come out of any game he's played in worse off than when he was beforehand. I'd say the ankle is getting better. I don't think it's anything he really talks about or you see hindering his performance out there, and the hamstring has continued to heal as well. Physically, he's definitely moving in the right direction.

Q: This is a little bit looking back a bit. I know you don't like to look forward too much or back too much, but this team suffered a significant injury with Saquon Barkley. How do you think, looking forward, of the way this offense has played, you have been able to make up for that with such a key player being gone?

A: I think with any person you have available, you have to use it to their strengths. We want to have all of our players out there, it's no secret. I would have loved to have been able to coach Saquon for 16 or 16-plus games this year. Absolutely. He's a fun guy to coach, he works really, really hard, he's doing everything he can right now to get better and progress. I don't think it's really fair to turn around and say what our offense would or would not have looked like with him in there. I think some of our scheme would have probably evolved into what it's doing right now anyway based on how the offensive line plays and what their strengths are as a unit. But there may have been some different wrinkles we could throw in. That being said, all of the backs we've used this year have done a good job adjusting their games as well. These are different schemes than they've run in the past. Wayne's (Gallman) done a nice job, Alfred (Morris), Devonta (Freeman), Dion (Lewis), all these guys are running really hard for us right now. We try to use them all similar enough that every time they're in, it's not a red flag of what's going to happen in the game. At the same time, they all have a little bit of difference to them. Look, Saquon is his own player as well. We definitely would have had some things dialed up for his skillset, like we do for Wayne, Alfred, Devonta and Dion as well. It's not really fair to turn around and tell the entire offense what it may or may not have looked like. I don't think that's really fair to anybody. But obviously, he's a weapon you want to have out there. I will say this, what you don't see really behind the scenes is how he's working right now. This guy is in here every day. He's very active in the training room, in the weight room, getting better. You see this guy around the locker room as much as he can in terms of really encouraging his teammates, staying involved, staying engaged. Look, this guy was elected a captain by his teammates for a reason. The leadership off the field has definitely come through since he's been hurt and been away from the team on the field.

Q: How connected were you on the way home last night with what was going on with the rest of the division and those games that ultimately kept you alive in this race for the division title?

A: Being on the train, actually, we had the game streaming in the background. I sat, we had kind of a little conference room in the front car that I was in. Me and Pat Graham sat in there. We went through the defensive tape together and watched like we do, we did the same thing coming back from Washington and talked some ball. We were kind of checking scores throughout the league with a lot of games going. That's kind of normal custom right there. Everyone's kind of checking scores around the league. Last night was no different. Obviously, there were some division games going on that we were conscious of. We checked those, we streamed those and watched the end of those games.

Q: What was the reaction of the team when the results of those games came in in your favor?

A: To be honest with you, I was actually separate from the rest of the players. They had us very spaced out in the cars. The front car was kind of more coaches than it was players. I saw the players on the backend when we got back to the facility. I called a quick meeting in the bubble just to address how we're going to handle the week going forward and kind of clear up any questions that may have come up. To be honest with you, look, the questions about the playoffs, these are things the players obviously have as well. We're going to keep our focus on Dallas. We're not getting focused on the playoffs. I truly believe what I said earlier, this is a hypothetical game. The only thing we can control is what we do against Dallas. At the same time, there's a human nature that they're very conscious of what's going on around the league. It would be naïve or ignorant to pretend that they're not paying attention as well. When we got back, I grabbed the team and just kind of let them know what the situation is, but really, reaffirm the importance of staying focused on Dallas. That's all we can control.

Q: Coming off this game, obviously, the Ravens blitz a ton and they're a tough defense. But what are your coaching points to clean up how the offensive line handled or did not handle some of the pressures they threw at you guys? Kind of connected to that, how much patience do you have when your two most veteran offensive linemen false start back to back on the first drive and really set you guys back?

A: We're not going to accept any penalties from any player at any time. We have to coach that better, we have to make sure that we drill every technique at practice and every situation the right way, and we have to execute when we get on the field. That's just our responsibility as coaches and players. That being said, in terms of the offensive line, look, there were a lot of positives. Obviously, it wasn't perfect. We have to clean up a lot of things, and there's going to be a lot of things that we'll tie over and apply to the Dallas game this week. We saw a lot of moving schemes yesterday. We're going to see movement against Dallas. There were some blitz packages yesterday, we're going to see probably some copycat and similar things against Dallas. The tape is relevant in terms of what Dallas might copycat and what we have to prepare for. I'd say the situation we have to keep ourselves out of is when you get behind and you're in that pass-only mentality, well, now the defense can pin their ears back and really get you. If you kind of look at our past few games, when the issues have come up, it's really been in those situations. That's against Arizona, Cleveland and then again yesterday. When you get into that pass heavy zone where you're behind, that's when the defense can finally pin their ears back. But when you can stay balanced early on, whether it's run or pass, is it a draw screen situation, what may come up, that keeps the defense a little bit more honest. That's when our offensive line has really played its best. When you're getting blitz zero three out of four plays, eventually, someone's going to come free. We have to make sure we avoid the hits on the quarterback. But there are times you're protecting with just five and they're bringing six or seven, and Daniel did a very good job yesterday of really controlling it and operating it and getting the ball out. You look at yesterday, there are a lot of situations where Daniel knew there were going to be free runners. You just know it by scheme. That's part of how you design getting the ball out. We had some hot reads, some sight adjustments, and just some plays schemed for a quick gain. I really like the way Daniel handled it yesterday. You kind of talk about what level of improvement have we seen throughout the year, I think there are a lot of things that show up on the tape yesterday with number eight. You watch him from the start of the year to through yesterday and how he handled a lot of the situations with the pressure, the ball security and the decision-making. He did a lot of things that demonstrate a lot of growth. There are a lot of things you guys ask me all the time. What are you really looking at with this team as you go forward? Well, I'll start with a key piece right there with Daniel. You always want to know about is Daniel our guy? Are we going forward with Daniel? The answer is absolutely. What gives us that confidence is even in games like yesterday where it didn't come out perfectly, you can turn the tape on and you can say, 'hey listen, in games one through whatever, that wasn't the guy we were looking at.' You watch the tape yesterday and you see that guy in there operating, executing, understanding the pressure and not just standing in there with courage like he's done all along and taken a hit but understanding how to take the hit and deliver an accurate pass and move the sticks down the field. These are things that as he grows in this league and develops in his craft, he's going to be able to do. As we get going and we build more into this scheme, he'll be able to handle it different ways as well and take some hits off himself. You see a lot of growth in these guys. I thought Daniel yesterday played well. There are some plays I'm sure he'd like to have back, some plays we'd like to do differently. That's natural in any game. We're going to coach it to eliminate those plays on the front end. But at the same time, there was a lot of growth that I saw with Daniel that's really showed up in terms of how he had to play the game yesterday and what he's able to do.

Q: I know you really don't want to talk about the playoffs and stuff, but what do you think about the opportunity that's been presented to you guys? We know what it is at this point. In most seasons, you're 5-10, you wouldn't have this opportunity. But the reality is it's sitting right there in front of you.

A: Look, I think the goal is always, somebody asked this question I think it was a few weeks ago, about playing relevant games in football. I think you want every game you ever play to be relevant. That being said, this same situation in front of us, the same opportunity that's in front of us is the same opportunity that was in front of us in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and so on. We have to make sure we take care of our business every week along the way and improve as a team. At the end of the year, it's the collective record that matters. Right now, the emphasis has to be on the Cowboys. We have to play our best game. This is a good team. This is a much different football team than we played early in the season. We're a different team, too. We have to re-learn the Cowboys and really study them and get ahead on it. Our players have to understand the opportunity that's really sitting in front of us is the opportunity to play a division rival and play the last game of the season with our best football. That's the opportunity that we have to take advantage of.

Q: Does the collective record really matter though if you win the division at 6-10?

A: To me, everything that's collective matters. How you improve as a team collectively throughout the year, to me, that's the ultimate measurement of what you're trying to do. I've never talked about our record as far as being the goal of any situation that I've been in as an assistant or now as a head coach. You talk throughout training camp in terms of being the best team you can be. You go out there every day with the mentality of we're going to do everything we can to improve today individually and then collectively as a team. To me, what I'm looking to see is growth as a team, improved level of football this week on the field, and top execution and coaching on Sunday. That's really my goal for this week. We have to control that. If we control that, the other stuff will take care of itself.

Linebacker Blake Martinez

Q: Obviously, you and the rest of the defense take great pride in stopping the run. After what happened yesterday, how much does that hurt you guys? What did you see as the main issue yesterday in defending the run?

A: When we went into this week, we knew we had to be gap sound, assignment sound, just because they use every aspect of their offense. Obviously, their quarterback is able to run, running back is able to run. They are able to do multiple things. Motions, shifts, all these types of ways to out-leverage you. When you went back and looked at the film, it basically just came down to assignment football. The way I look at it was you have 11 on 11. One guy has to be holding the ball, so there's 10 against 11 to block. If we can fit it right, one guy should be free and we just didn't do our assignment on each one of those plays to be able to have that free guy being the advantage. We didn't make the plays when they came to us. 

Q: I don't mean to sound like a smart aleck, but there are people who look at the record and say 5-10 and you can possibly finish 6-10, no team deserves to be in the playoffs at 6-10. How do you react to something like that?

A: I don't think the record is the biggest thing to look at. I think you look at the team and how they progressed throughout the season. How they are improving, the style of play they play with. Once you get in the playoffs, it really becomes 0-0. You continue to win, you keep going. You can be a team that's 16-0 and lose the first game, all of the sudden you're out. You can be a team that's, like you said, 6-10, and win all the way through and you keep going. At that point, once you're in that position, the best team wins. 

Q: Your head coach mentioned after the game yesterday that he thought you guys made defensive adjustments in the second half to help slow them down and that he thought you should've made them sooner. When something is not going your way as a defense, whether it's defending the pass against Cleveland or defending the run against Baltimore, how much are you urging the coaches and saying, 'listen, I see this, it's not working'? You guys spend so much time during the week preparing for a specific plan, you want to stick with it at least for a full half to make sure it might stick.

A: Overall, throughout the year, especially with Pat (Graham), he has been super open for communication. I think being able to listen to us and understand what we're seeing out there, or what's difficult for us on any given play within the first half compared to the second half, I think when it came down to it, kind of going back to the first thing I was saying, guys were in the right spots to start the play and then all of the sudden they were able to leverage that player or group of players. Now they all of the sudden had that advantage on that play. You couldn't scrape over the top or get over the offensive linemen or the fullback, whoever it ended up being. It allowed them to just have that open running lane. 

Q: What do you think about your team's playoff chances at this point?

A: It goes back to the same thing I have been saying every week. You just go about each and every week the same that we have been doing since the start of the season. Just making sure we get better. Going to work Monday, making improvements that we need to from the previous game. Just focus on what we can do as a team to be better than we were last week. Be better than we were to start the season. As long as we're doing that and showing it the following Sunday, whatever ends up happening, happens. We're ready to go and we'll do the same thing if we get another chance to re-focus in and get back to work the following Monday after that. 

Q; How nice is it to at least have that carrot dangling right there? I know you don't want to think about it, but you know that it's a possibility that after this week if you take care of your business, then it's at least a possibility.

A: Our coaches hit it best. They said, you always want to have meaningful December football games. Obviously, this game will be in January, so meaningful January games. To be able to have that, every competitor, especially in the NFL, wants to have that opportunity. 

Q: Two years ago, you were on a team that won six games. Your coach got fired and you went 6-9-1 and finished third in the division. Do you feel fortunate to be in it with five wins? When you win five or six games, it's usually what happened to you two years ago in Green Bay.

A: I think things kind of panned out the way they did. Obviously, we have the opportunities ahead of us. You have to take advantage of it. I think that's the biggest thing, kind of finishing the season off. Doing whatever we can to take advantage of what's presented to us. 

Q: Can you paint any kind of picture for us? Coach Judge told us you guys were on the train when those two games came in last night. Were you guys high fiving, were you celebrating that you have a chance still and that Week 17 was going to matter?

A: We knew the results. I think that's going back to the type of team that we are. We knew exactly what we were going to do the following week, no matter what the situation was. Obviously, it added that component of a meaningful January game coming up now instead of not. I think that was a big moment. I think obviously coach Judge pulled us together once we got off the buses and just said, 'hey, full focus on Dallas.' Meaningful game, get after it and let's get going this week. 

Q: Is it nice to face a team without a quarterback who can run laps around just about everybody else on the field?

A: Yeah, it definitely makes it a little easier game plan wise. Dallas, across the board, has amazing talent once again. It's going to be a tough task for us to stop their run game, their pass game. They're starting to kind of fire on all cylinders. You kind of want to be that team that doesn't let them start the game off hot and be comfortable.

Q: Do you feel like your defense matches up better to what's probably more of what people think of as a traditional offense? With a passing quarterback and a big time running back. These last few games where you have been playing sort of new wave college run and shoot type of teams.

A: I think any game we go in to, we feel like we have the ability to defend anyone. Any given Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, all these games are on different days this year, it's just all about execution. I think as long as we go out there, understand the game plan, understand where we need to be, what spots to defend in the pass game and the run game, we can go out there and play against anyone.  

Q: I think you might've said it twice now. Were you saying that guys on defense were not in the right position at the start of a lot of plays in the first half? Is that what you said?

A: Yeah, so basically depending on the certain defensive call, scheme, whatever you want to call it, on any given play, certain guys had to leverage certain players. Whether it's the number two receiver, number three, end guy on the line of scrummage, whatever it ended up being, all of the sudden they started doing their shifts and motions, all the stuff they did pre-snap, which then changed your certain alignment pre-snap. At that point, once you weren't in the spot, all of the sudden they snapped the ball. Now you're two spots behind instead of being in the right spot to start.

Center Nick Gates

Q: As an offensive line, how do you feel you guys handled the Ravens pressure yesterday? How did you feel you guys played as a unit overall?

A: I'd say overall we didn't play well. We gave up six sacks. We only ran the ball for 54 yards. We just have to be better all around. We have to be better at picking up pressures. All around, just being a better offense.  

Q: As far as the playoffs, it would seem unlikely, but you guys are still alive. Because of that four-game win streak, you can get in with a little help. Can you wipe the slate clean and say that no matter how you played against the Ravens, win one and get it and then we belong in the playoffs? Is that how you have to think?

A: I'm just focused on Dallas. We have to beat Dallas first to be able to even think about the playoffs. After we beat them, we have to see if Washington wins. I'm just focused on Dallas and trying to give ourselves the best opportunity. 

Q: How connected were you to the other games in the division yesterday when you were on the train coming home? What was it like when you were on the train and you are on the brink of elimination and then you get off the train and you're still in the race?

A: It's definitely good to still be in the race and still be able to go to the playoffs. We just have to take care of business next Sunday versus Dallas. Get the win and see if Washington loses. It's good thinking you're going to be eliminated to having an opportunity. It was a good feeling even though we would've rather won the game and given ourselves a better opportunity. 

Q: Can you put us on the train with you? Did you have your iPads out watching the game? Was there a big screen that had the Washington game on? Were you just checking your phones for score updates? Was there a lot of chatter about the game among teammates? How were you following it?

A: I just had the ESPN app and was just looking at that. I was watching film and kind of clicking back and forth trying to keep myself updated a little bit. There wasn't too much chatter about it. We can't really be near each other with the social distancing and all tracking (contact tracing) and things like that. You're in your cart and you're in your cart. 

Q: We haven't talked to (Will) Hernandez in a couple weeks. I'm wondering how he's handled what can only be a demotion. He played every snap of his career for three years and now he's only playing a third of the game. How has he handled that?

A: I don't want to speak for him. I don't know how he's feeling personally. I think from my impression, he's handled it well. He's done everything that the coaches have asked him to do. He's going to keep doing everything he can. 

Q: How do you sort of handicap your playoff chances? You need to take care of your business, but you also need some help. I know you guys are concentrating on what's at stake for you guys. The reality is that carrot is sitting there dangling in front of you.

A: Like you said, we just have to take care of business first with Dallas. Hopefully the Eagles can get the win versus Washington and that sends us to the playoffs. We just have to take it one step at a time and focus on Dallas. That's going to be our main thing of the week. 

Q: Going back to this past game, was there anything the Ravens did? They blitzed a lot in that second half. Was there anything unique about it that was why they had so much success?

A: They knew we had to throw the ball. Any time a team knows you have to throw the ball, they can pin their ears back and go get you and start blitzing you. It's a tough thing. We just have to get the ball out quicker. Make sure the right hats are on the right hats. 

Q: I don't mean to pick a scab here, 15 sacks over the last three weeks. Have defenses played you a little differently? I know you were just saying that when you're behind, they know you are going to pass more. Have you noticed more twists or are they doing things that maybe you haven't seen in the past?

A: Teams have been stunting and twisting on us all year. We were already good at that. We have to get better and that's going to be one of our focuses, to try to pick up stuff. They were just blitzing. A lot of teams are blitzing a lot. Bringing usually one extra guy than we can block. We have to get the ball out to the hot and check downs and things like that.

View photos from the Week 16 matchup between the Giants and Ravens in at M&T Bank Stadium.

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